Holly Bird, Editorial Assistant of Together magazine
shares his thoughts on the
2017 Retailers & Suppliers Retreat.
Making a Difference - CRT Retreat 2017
Holly Bird reports on the 8th annual Christian Resources Together Retailers and Suppliers Retreat
As I embarked on the approach to the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick after a long drive for my first taste of the Christian Resources Together Retailers and Suppliers Retreat, I was contented to behold the lovely grounds and the one hundred and sixty year-old building which provided the setting of the 8th CRT retreat.
Having collected my badge, BAMB goodie bag, delegate info pack, warm welcome and room key from reception, I found my room in the apartment building named “Lakehouse” (overlooking, might I add, a lovely small lake), then headed off for dinner on the (optional) Tuesday evening. Meals were a wonderful communal affair, where a selection of delicious menu options was served in buffet style. This was a great opportunity for meeting and getting to know new people or seeking out old friends and colleagues.
Kingsway Trust kindly screened the film The Case for Christ to help us all wind down after long journeys and lively conversations, complete with experience enhancers including popcorn, sweets, homemade rice crispy cakes and some Kingsway special offers! The film is definitely one to stock. It helps us as Christians prepare for some of the questions and conversations we should be prepared to encounter with non-believers, and offers us potential insight into what some atheists go through in their search for truth.
Wednesday morning saw the arrival of more delegates, and the opening of the fantastic trade exhibition. Publishers and suppliers spoiled us all with sweets, freebies and helpful information as their stands lined two of the large halls on site, offering retailers the chance to scope out new releases or gift items for their shops. It was another opportunity for gathering new contacts and sharing ideas.
Worship was lead by Ben Dunnett and a fabulous team of musicians which, due to their fortuitous choices of attire, were affectionately named “Ben and the Blue Shirts” by some of the speakers. With a careful selection of widely-recognised and popular songs, we were all able to engage in worship passionately together.
There was a choice of seminars available over the two days, offering a variety of helpful input. Dave Almack, author of The Bookshop That Matters offered insights into “How to run a successful Christian Bookstore” based on the concepts in his book, including a discussion of topics such as knowing your community, yourself and your products, and offering seven key points to running a Christian bookshop.
Bestselling Christian authors Jim and Elizabeth George hosted a session on writing where attendees were able to ask about their experiences and successes in their writing careers, as well as their inspirations.
Laura Treneer, Chief Executive of CPO taught retailers about the best way to make use of social media to promote our shops and connect with churches and other bookshops. Laura has written four superb guides for churches and shops to better enable them to communicate with each other and the outside world. Visit cpo.org.uk for more.
I was delighted by the amount of authors at the retreat, many of whom were kind enough to offer book signings including Martin Charlesworth, Gemma Willis, Claire Musters and Tania Harris among others. Indeed there were even a couple of writers’ workshops available during the event.
In the afternoon we were blessed to hear Nick Page, author of A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation speak to us on the subject of ‘Making a Difference’ which was this year’s theme for the retreat. Naturally, he kept us all laughing while reminding us that while many things in life remain out of our control, and we often experience feelings of fear and helplessness in the face of adversity, one thing we can control is ourselves. We can make a difference through our will; what we’re like, how we react to things, what we say and what we do. It is our choice.
On Thursday we were fortunate enough to hear from Elizabeth George on the same theme. Elizabeth is the author of the After God’s Own Heart series. A superb speaker, Elizabeth told us about how she and husband Jim George (also a successful Christian author) became Christians, and how one book changed their lives, and that same book changed the lives of many people. The people who made the difference were the person who wrote that book, and those that passed it on. That could be you; writing that next book to change people’s lives, or it could be you recommending that book to others.
Emily Owen, author of Still Emily and a growing series of reflective Bible study books entitled 30 Days With... thanked the Christian book trade for the difference it makes in her life, talking specifically about one bookshop she visits often and its manageress, always making her feel safe and cared for as she battles to overcome her long term illness. By simply caring for people and making our shops a safe and welcoming place for anyone, we can make a real difference in people’s lives.
And let’s not forget the wonderfully dynamic Bob Hartman who spoke to us at the closure of the conference. Bob is well-known for his many children’s books and his storytelling gift. True to form he had us all singing songs and performing the actions and, best of all, enjoying it! He discussed his growing concern over children not following in their parents’ steps of faith, and how parents feel particularly challenged in how to essentially “pass on” their faith to them. We could make a difference by supporting projects such as “the kitchen table project” being run by Care for the Family (www.careforthefamily.org.uk/kitchen-table-project) who are launching a tour next year. Could bookshops be or help find local venues for events?
The awards evening itself was quite a thing of beauty. There was a wonderful supportive atmosphere towards those who won awards in categories such as Biography of the Year, Christian Life Book of the Year, Independent Small Retail Shop of the Year and Christian Bookshop Volunteers of the Year among many others. It was a rare opportunity to celebrate these achievements together.
A true highlight of the event was seeing the way that all those who have been impacted by the work of Steve and Mandy Briars, founders of Christian Resources Together, Together Magazine, and organisers of the retreat, showed their appreciation of all they do. Unbeknownst to them, a collection of offerings had been gathered from all who were able to give, and the hard working couple were presented with their own award for outstanding contribution to the Christian Book Trade, along with a cheque, some vouchers, some bubbly, and a scrapbook of messages from anyone who wanted to express something to them. It was just wonderful to see them rewarded, and to see the whole trade gather around them in love and appreciation.
As a first time attendee of the conference, I cannot commend it highly enough to others in the trade. If you haven’t been before, I suggest you make it a priority next year, and if you have been before, I assume you’ll be going again!